Posts tagged ‘philippines’

October 24, 2012

An Anarchist’s Viewpoint on the Akbayan/ Anakbayan Debate

by Melissa

I am struck by the ongoing (and recently very public) debate about power and the marginalized among the Left in the Philippines.

I appreciate this article that points out the need for critical thinking, for questions that disrupt complacency. I also appreciate her tone, the way she honors what she has learned and from whom. Anakbayan taught her to see power relations, to see that the marginalization of people- fisherfolk, farmers, urban poor, women, migrant workers and many others- is a persistent reality within a capitalist system. However, I think there’s a missing piece in her analysis.

We are talking about the party-list system: that is an avenue for representational politics. Thus we are not simply talking about power and power relations in our society, but questioning the complicated and important place of representation in our political movements.

Anakbayan asserts that because Akbayan members have positions in the current government (Rocamora in NAPC, Rosales in CHR) it is no longer marginalized and therefore ought to be disqualified from party-list candidacy. Akbayan does not deny its relative success in electoral politics. In that sense it is not marginal. However, it vehemently opposes that logic that suggests they are no longer representing the marginalized.

There is a slippage between two realms- marginalization in electoral politics and marginalization in everyday life. Are these the same? Of course being disenfranchised, having a marginal voice in the political process reflects and refracts the broader reality of being marginal. That is of being ‘subaltern’, defined as “unable to access lines of social mobility” (Spivak, 2005). However, the party-list system tries to rectify the fact of subalternity by providing an avenue for subaltern voices in politics. To engage in party-list politics is to agree, even momentarily, that the subaltern can be represented in the first place. And furthermore, that good representations “giving voice to the voiceless” can indeed shift power relations in everyday life.

On the surface, Anakbayan’s claim is that Akbayan as a party is no longer marginalized, and therefore cannot represent the marginalized. This is true only if the assumption is that the powerful cannot represent the marginalized.

Who is powerful? Who is marginalized?

These are important question. The debate has a lot to do with how we understand POWER. The farmer is marginalized in relation to the landowner in everyday life. As a result of this power, the privilege afforded the landowner, he is also empowered (through money, education, leisure time, social networks) in other spheres and can wield significant political power at the local, even national, level. But this power is not fixed. Secure in its truth. Rather this power is articulating across time and space. It needs to be constantly produced and legitimized. In other words, the landowner is not necessarily powerful and the farmer powerless across all spheres. If we concede that it is possible to build power, to become empowered (through money, education, leisure time, social networks), we acknowledge the possibility of disrupting the categories of powerful and marginalized. The dichotomy seems rather shallow in the complexity of our being.

Who can represent the marginalized?

Post-Colonial scholar Gayatri Spivak has a long career of thinking through this question. In her landmark “Can the Subaltern Speak” (1988) she challenges the idea that anyone (even post-colonials themselves) can represent identities and make recognizable subalternity without re-constraining the subaltern through narrow and static patterns of recognition. In this initial analysis her answer is NO ONE CAN REPRESENT ACCURATELY. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO REPRESENT THE MARGINALIZED IN ORDER TO INFLUENCE POWER RELATIONS. This, quite obviously, provides no way forward, no way of making claims at all. Interestingly, BAYAN’s initial position on the party-list system seemed to concur with this conclusion. However, their participation since 2001 in the party-list system signals a change in thinking, towards the idea that the marginalized can represent themselves.

In Spivak’s later work (2005) she attempts to hold onto a praxis of self-representation. The marginalized can represent themselves in particular places at particular times. She points to conditions which make possible political claims, specifically that representational politics must be accountable to a politics of participation. That is, structures of decision-making matter. Subaltern representations must engage the subaltern (the fisherfolk, farmers, women, migrant workers, etc). And moreover, representations ought to change and shift depending on self-understandings and political context. Thus, there can be no “accurate” representations. The language of “does not represent the masses” cannot be simply truth, tied to the firm knowledge of what and who are the masses (and who they are not). Rather a representational politics acknowledges that when we speak for others (whether we are one of them, or they are different from us) it remains a strategic invocation, limited by context and by the possibility of change itself.

For me, anarchist that I am, a representational politics is necessary in the struggle for change only IF the representation exists in relation to a vibrant and dynamic participatory process.

However, the question remains: which political groups (Akbayan and Anakbayan included) are truly engaging a participatory process within their respective representational politics?

(previously an FB note… but worth posting I suppose :))

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December 6, 2011

occupy philippines

by Melissa

Today I joined the student march to Mendiola, the classic place to protest in the Philippines.  According to this call out  students and youth were to start off the occupy event by marching to Malacanang and camping out.  Over the next few days, we were to be joined by other sectors-  migrants and their families, trade unions and workers, urban poor.  However, plans have changed.  The police and two firetrucks (crowd dispersion techniques here include water cannon…) met us on at the intersection of Recto Ave and Nicanor Reyes St, about 3 blocks from Mendiola.   For the first time since Noynoy Aquino took office, a political rally in Manila has been met with force.  After nearly four hours of holding the intersection, the people decided to move to Plaza Miranda to camp for the night.  Tomorrow will be another day-  perhaps another march to Mendiola.

I was genuinely surprised to see the police in riot gear beating back students.  Many of us lost our tsinelas (flip flops) in the first water bomba but we managed to hold our ground.  A barefoot young woman in a school uniform laughed with her friends.  First time in a rally and look what happened!  A few times we locked arms again, we seemed about to charge the police and advance to Mendiola.  But it was impossible to force our position.  They were preempting a movement growing into a problem.  They hope to stop the energy, the analysis, the indignation that might inspire a Third World Winter, like an American Fall and an Arab Spring.  Winter doesn’t exist here-  but its almost Christmas and the idea of unpacking a global revolution stirs my spirit.

A month ago, farmers camped out at Mendiola for 3 days.  They were allowed to be there.  Based on what happened today, something about the campout message has pushed a button in the halls of power.  There have been some news articles here about how Occupy is unnecessary or misplaced in the Philippine context.  This is far from true.  Wealth concentration  in the Philippines is well-known and long-standing.  Land tenure is a big issue-  as there are feudal relations (tenant farmers and huge haciendas) that continue to hamper agricultural development.   Business is monopolized by several well-know family clans  and the conglomerate structure of the economy has largely promoted a service-based economy (including overseas labour).  And of course, there is outside influence- foreign banks, multi-lateral “aid” organizations, foreign governments like the US, which have undermined genuine democracy for decades.  You only have to walk a block in Manila to notice the disparity between rich and poor, to see that gated subdivisions and urban poor communities live in constant spatial negotiation.

I am excited about the campout for several reasons beyond the above.  Yes, in an abstract sense, I think the conditions are ripe.  But of course,  I also want to participate!  I have also been following the Occupy Everything movement closely through friends and independent press in New York City and Toronto-  two places close to my heart.  My blood has boiled watching videos of the UC Davis pepper spray incident.  Sometimes I feel I am missing the most important thing to happen in the US in my lifetime.  Other times, I convince myself that wherever I am (the Philippines!), the struggle remains.  So I have been attempting to talk Occupy with people I meet here.  And of course make  links between remittance economies (the topic of my research) and debt crises (now and in the 80’s in particular).  I am excited about the campout because I want to occupy something:)

I also am excited about the campout because I see it as an opportunity for openness in organizing.  One of the things most endearing about the Occupy moment is that it attempts to remain open, participatory, and inviting.  Part of the Occupy model includes the General Assembly, which makes decisions about tactic, strategy and analysis.  It is a forum where different views come together to make collective decisions.  Direct democracy.  It is also a movement open to different targets-  occupy the bronx, occupy foreclosures, occupy the park.  I think this kind of openness is important to stir the hearts and minds of those people who are not about to submit to recruitment, militant education and consolidation.  I feel, in a way, I am one of those.  It is difficult to really organize me because I’m bound to disagree.  The thing is-  its better to be able to critique from the inside.  To be able to say-  I love you and I disagree.  Otherwise I might fail to see our unity, the way we are the 99% together.  I hope a campout model invites participation and engagement-  where the curious can come and see.

I desire Occupy to become a worldwide movement against capitalism.  It already brags to be worldwide and yet the gaps are telling. Some suggest that the Philippines is unconnected to finance capitalism.  And while it may be true that collateral debt obligations and the toxic debt crisis in the US did not noticeably effect the Philippine financial sector or that the Eurozone crisis might have a limited effect on the Philippine status quo, the Philippines is nonetheless implicated.  Perhaps even a seasoned, practiced, hardened recipient of  neoliberal maneuvers now rocking the First World.  The Philippines is not “unconnected” to finance capitalism, but in fact differently connected.  We still need to work out what these links look like.  Here in the Philippines I think the classic calls for Land, Wage, Work, Education and Rights remains incredibly important.  I think its important to track state abandonment of social services not only to corrupt local leadership but also to a debt crisis of the 80’s (capitalist crisis) that continues to bankrupt Philippine development.  We need to build solidarity between “anti-outsourcing” in the US and call-center workers  in the Philippines who studied engineering in college only to spend their nights on the phone with US customers.  We need to understand our material conditions. worldwide.  And push to value labour both here and there.

I hope that tomorrow we will take Mendiola, set up camp and really get to know each other, our struggles, our dreams, our power.

 

 

 

November 7, 2011

mystery debt and political foreclosure

by Melissa

Okay, of course, there’s more to the current crisis than US housing markets.  The European Debt Crisis (Greece of course being the current flavour) is a sovereign debt crisis like the debt crisis of the 80’s. Debt activists are pointing to some important continuities between then and now, including the mystery of debt burden and the related narrowing of what is politically viable.

This CADTM’s statement of solidarity aptly captures the (deliberate?) amnesia regarding the source of sovereign debt among European nations like Greece, Ireland, Italy and Iceland.  Like the US bank bailout, European countries too rescued big financial institutions in the wake of the toxic debt crisis that swept the financial sector following the housing crisis in the US.  For 30 years, debt activists have called for Debt Audits in order to democratically determine the source and legitimacy of the debt burden facing debtor nations.  This has yet to be done in the Philippines, for example, and the political space around national debt was foreclosed in the wake of Cory Aquino’s pledge to honour all debts incurred under Marcos (with the help of loan pushers, see my Nov 5 post).  And thus the Philippines kept the Martial Law period law ( Automatic Appropriation Act) that puts all debt service as priority in national expenditure.  Odious debt has many definitions, but importantly, all of them underscore the negotiability of debt.  Graeber has noted that debt can create conditions of servitude precisely because of a moral narrative of debt repayment.  Challenging this debt narrative is crucial.  Mainstream news coverage of the political crisis in the European Union (and Greece itself) has effectively forgotten about the debt owed by bankers to the public who bailed them out.  Challenging the debt narrative (through debt audit) can raise the important question:  Who owes who?  What does the investor class owe the public in light of the crisis they created?  Would a debt audit bring to light odious sovereign debts-  debts unrelated to government spending on social welfare and legitimate national investment-  debts that are in the form of toxic financial assets,  Credit Default Swaps or other strange and speculative intruments that create debt for investor profit….?

Similar to the creditor protection afforded by the IMF (through more loans with conditionalities) in the 80’s and 90’s, creditor protection in the European debt crisis has taken the form of loan extensions to Greece (notably by the EU) on conditions of austerity.  This effectively shifts the crisis burden from the investor class to the working class.  The narrative of austerity measures functions on the myth (real or imagined?) that national debt is the result of “overspending” given the national revenue stream.  Austerity measures (as the only solution to crisis) foreclose the possibility that debt was incurred through large-scale (unregulated and “legal”) fraud in the first place:  corporate tax breaks, new forms of sovereign lending (derivatives and creative accounting),  investments in crock-pot paper with high-grade ratings, and other anti-people practices.  Like in Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador, Greek people are right to challenge the mainstream debt narrative through street-level tactics.  Worldwide debt audits (and other ways of opening political spaces within economic narratives) should be on the table- for new and old debtor countries.

Moreover, the current Eurozone crisis ought to underscore the extent that sovereign nations are tied to odious terms of agreement.  The whole reason Greece needs bailouts from Europe and the IMF is due to perceived investor risk of sovereign default (and the consequent exhorbitant cost of further borrowing).  Is this risk in fact a product of  financial sector profit instruments in the Sovereign Derivatives Market rather than simply “Greece living beyond its means”?  Maybe the blueprint from the 80’s debt crisis still serves us well:

I  Frontier markets in  sovereign lending      (SO KEY!)

II Widespread inability to pay (or the perception of such due to risk ratings since payment is reliant on further borrowing)

III  Creditor protection like the backdoor bailout (so Greek won’t default on its loans to private investors) that is currently being negotiated.

What remains to be seen is whether the Greek people submit to debtor management at the cost of  national sovereignty and working class solidarity or effectively push back against the mainstream debt narrative.

The sovereign debt crisis is perhaps more a crisis of sovereignty than of debt proper.

November 5, 2011

debt mirror 80&08

by Melissa
There are four main parallels between the Debt Crisis of the 1980’s and the Housing Crisis of 2008:

I      Frontier markets

II    Widespread inability to pay

III  Creditor protection

IV   Ongoing debt management OR  Push back  

photo by a Filipina domestic worker (in honkonginterventions)

 

Debt crisis in the US:

Big banks in the US made predatory loans-  loans to low-income households which were likely to default (especially as interest rates rise and housing prices drop).  They then leveraged homeowner’s debts for profit in the shadow banking sector.  When the housing loans did indeed default, the banks had effectively spread the toxic debt far and wide-  thus there was a debt crisis that impacted not only the homeowners but also the banks themselves (both a creditor on main street and a debtor in the shadow banking sector (including the securities market).  To “solve” the debt crisis, the big banks were bailed out (given money by the government to pay off their debts).  They were not however regulated or otherwise punished as a creditor.  Homeowner debt has been addressed in the form of the “privilege” to re-finance their mortgages if the market price no longer reflects the terms on their original loan.  In other words, the solution to debt crisis has been creditor protection and debt management on bankers’ terms.

Debt crisis in the Philippines:

As the standard debt story goes, a corrupt dictator and his cronies literally robbed the future.  This is of course true- Marcos’ regime borrowed money from abroad for  “development” projects like the infamous Bataan Nuclear Plant that in addition to the outrageous price paid (padding corrupt pockets) it was also built on a fault line and therefore unsafe for use.

However, this story leaves out a crucial component-  banks in the First World (flooded with cash from the oil boom of the 1970’s) were at the time literally pushing loans across the Third World.  Big banks in the US made predatory loans– loans to companies in the Philippines which were likely to default  (especially as exchange rates fluctuate thus impacting the price of exports and imports).  Philippine national debt jumped from under $1 billion in 1966 to over $28 billion in 1988 as the nation (through its government financial institutions) absorbed the toxic debt of both public and private failures.

As one insider remarked in a 1983 expose about selling money in the Philippines: “American banks, through the agency of loan officers like me, have made a number of questionable loans in countries whose balance of payments is so far arrears that according to Citicorp’s Walter Wriston, ‘ability to repay’ is no longer the main consideration.  All that matters now is ‘access to the marketplace’…”   As US companies expanded their markets abroad, banks followed suit in affect to finance the import of American goods and services.

Moreover, these loans were “unsecure” except through the full faith and credit of the Philippine government.  Despite the chronic balance of payments problem in the Philippines, the young writer goes on to narrate: “American banks persist in the decade-old notion that ‘banks and governments won’t default’… I set about securing a partial guarantee from the Philippines largest bank [likely PNB] which has already put its name on more guarantees than it can possibly pay off.”

The fact is that beginning with Mexico in 1982 countries did default-  but again, US capitalists negotiated the debt to their advantage.  The IMF and World Bank effectively stepped in to protect the creditor.  Debts were “rescheduled” and more loans with neoliberal conditionalities proffered.  Thus, the Philippines has since been on the path of debt management-  a negotiated debt program that has necessitated massive anti-people economic restructuring in addition to starving the nation of necessary public goods like education, health, infrastructure, and technology.

(more on debt[or] management to come)

November 5, 2011

recognizing Wall St in the debt crisis of the 80’s

by Melissa

Perhaps from the outset it seems that the Philippines is unconnected to Collateralized Debt Obligations, mortgage crisis, bank (and European Union) bail outs, austerity measures and other distinctly Western experiences of the last 5 years.  However, this is far from the truth.  In fact, what the West is currently experiencing is a debt crisis spurred by systemic predatory lending.

Analyses of  the US recession and the European debt crisis have been largely silent about the specific parallels between what’s happening now and the Third World’s experience of finance capitalism in the 80’s (that continues today)…  although a recent article in the Nation has captured the political  fallout of the  debt crisis well:

“When the dictates of foreign debt or trade treaties put core economic decisions beyond the control of elected representatives, “democracy” becomes a cruel joke or, worse, a spectacle designed to absorb popular frustration while the real deals go down elsewhere…  The OWS moment seems to reflect a recognition that we have joined our neighbors to the south in being ruled by a system that, whatever its other virtues may be, is powerless to solve the most important problems plaguing the country.”

This blog wants to bring this conversation along-  I want to highlight that Wall St was behind many defaulted loans that created the debt crisis in the 80’s-  and moreover that Wall St. has benefited from this same crisis through debtor management.

There’s an incredible story from a 1983 Harper’s article (Numbers – Adventures in the Loan Trade 11 01 83) that tracks the experience of one American banker engaged in making risky loans in the Philippines and beyond.  This article (and a book called the Loan Pushers (check out this short article by the same author), have re-oriented my understanding of the Third World debt crisis.  I was a baby in the 80’s (and barely that) and my impression of that crisis always includes the history of Martial Law and widespread fraud and corruption under Marcos.  But these articles point to the crisis of finance capitalism:  frontier markets, orchestrated mass debt peonage, and the ongoing crisis of democracy (as we  know it) due to money power.

In the the 5000 years of debt history (thanks Dr. Graeber) a central tension has always been who benefits from debt negotiations: the creditor or the debtor?

Those affected by the current crisis (everyone, no? ) can learn about Wall St. debtor management tactics from the Third World experience.   And more importantly imagine what a worldwide debtor movement might look like?